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ESA reentry vehicle on track for flight in 2013

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ESA and Thales Alenia Space Italia announced an agreement today at the Paris Air & Space Show to begin building the IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle for its mission into space in 2013.

Europe’s ambition for a spacecraft to return autonomously from low orbit is a cornerstone for a wide range of space applications, including space transportation, exploration and robotic servicing of space infrastructure.

This goal will be achieved with IXV, which is the next step from the Atmospheric Reentry Demonstrator flight of 1998. More manoeuvrable and able to make precise landings, IXV is the ‘intermediate’ element of Europe’s path to future developments with limited risks.

Launched into a suborbital trajectory on ESA’s small Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, IXV will return to Earth as if from a low-orbit mission, to test and qualify new European critical reentry technologies such as advanced ceramic and ablative thermal protection.

The 2 t lifting body will attain an altitude of around 450 km, allowing it to reach a velocity of 7.5 km/s on entering the atmosphere. It will collect a large amount of data during its hypersonic and supersonic flight, while it is being controlled by thrusters [...]

ARD on show at Cité de l’Espace

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ESA’s Atmospheric Re-entry Demonstrator has now arrived at Cité de l’Espace in Toulouse, France where it will form part of the Ariane 5 launcher exhibit. The ARD is Europe’s first step towards developing a re-entry vehicle so that people and equipment can be sent into space – and brought back safely.

The ARD was launched in October 1998 by an Ariane 5 from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana. After performing a sub-orbital flight and reaching an altitude of 830 km it landed in the Pacific Ocean within 5 km of the predicted touchdown point. On recovery the ARD underwent post-flight testing at the EADS Launch Vehicles premises in Bordeaux. EADS LV is the main contractor concerned with this project which also involved many other European industries.

Only by carrying out actual tests of demonstration vehicles can Europe improve its knowledge of re-entry vehicles. Another benefit of the ARD test, for both ESA and Europe, is that the technology employed onboard the ARD is a prototype of the technology that will be used in future exploration missions to planets such as Mars, Titan and one of the Saturn moons.

Now that the test results and analysis of the mission [...]